Subcommittee begins work to research environmental court

Published 6:25 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Members of a special subcommittee of the Carter County Planning Commission met Wednesday afternoon to begin discussing the possibility of implementing an environmental court for the county.

Carter County Commissioner Brad Johnson, who is not a member of the Planning Commission but was appointed to serve on the special subcommittee, shared with the group some the things he has learned while researching environmental courts in other counties.

In neighboring Washington County, the environmental court meets every other Friday and is part of the case load for one of the county’s three Sessions Court judges.

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Carter County has only one Sessions Court judge, and Bradley said he has spoken with Judge Keith Bowers about the possibility of taking on the environmental case load.

“His schedule and his court dockets are filled to the brim,” Johnson said. Between the General Sessions criminal cases, juvenile court cases, and small claims civil cases, Johnson said Bowers does not have the ability to take on an environmental court case load as well.

“We do have a judge who is willing to take on the environmental court,” Johnson said. According to Johnson, Chancellor John Rambo said he would be willing to take on those cases for Carter County.

However, having the Chancellor preside over environmental court could bring it’s own challenges. Currently, Chancery Court is the court of appeals out of General Sessions Court. If a person wants to appeal a decision in Chancery Court, they have to go through the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, which Johnson said would be costly for citizens.

Additionally, Johnson said, the Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees courts across the state, would have to sign off to Chancellor Rambo presiding over the environmental court cases.

If the AOC gives permission for Chancellor Rambo to preside over the court, Johnson said that would allow the county to obtain a judge for those cases at no cost. Johnson said he has spoken with Circuit Court Clerk Johnny Blankenship, who said his staff could handle the administrative work for the court.

If the Chancellor cannot preside over the environmental court, Johnson said the county could contract with a qualified attorney to serve as magistrate for the court.

Carter County Attorney Josh Hardin said he had never considered the idea of the Chancellor presiding over the environmental court, but said he would contact the AOC regarding the issue.

Regardless of whether the county can work with the Chancellor or must contract with a magistrate, Hardin said the county’s current code enforcement policies and resolution would need a lot of work before the court could be launched.

The Environmental Court subcommittee will schedule their next meeting after the county receives word from the AOC as to whether or not the Chancellor can preside over the environmental court.